What direct marketers need to know about today's job market

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Job hunters are facing one of the most challenging employment markets in decades; it's not just the fact that there are fewer positions to go around.

“Almost a third of all direct marketing companies have a hiring freeze and only one out of five is hiring, so it's … tough,” said Jerry Bernhart, principal of direct marketing recruitment firm Bernhart Associates Executive Search and publisher of quarterly employment reports for the industry.

Experts are also observing key changes in how companies recruit new talent, the types of qualifications being sought and the willingness of employers to compromise on their “wish lists” of requirements. This makes finding the right match—for both employers and job candidates—that much harder.

“Straight Line” consulted several direct marketing professionals with expertise in recruiting and employment to find out what's driving the current market and how job candidates can put their best foot forward. Here's what they told us:

1. Certain skills are more in demand than others.
In an e-mail survey of more than 400 hiring managers and HR professionals conducted in mid-June, Bernhart Associates asked respondents about the types of positions their companies were hiring for in the next 90 days. The categories that topped the list were analytics, sales/business development and “anything related to e-commerce,” said Bernhart.

For freelance and interim positions, candidates who combine general marketing acumen with specific skills, such as social media or search engine optimization, are frequently requested, said Heather Frayne, president of freelance and interim staffing provider Direct Marketers on Call.

Project management expertise is another desirable freelance credential. “We're getting a lot of requests for people who are project-management certified … in areas I wouldn't have thought of it for, necessarily,” Frayne said.

Where industry expertise is concerned, Mike Savage, senior VP-marketing at Merkle, has observed increasing demand for database and direct marketing experience in sectors that are relatively new to the space.

“Pharmaceutical, health care and retail are three industries that view analytically led marketing as a critical strategy to support their 2010—and beyond—growth agendas,” Savage said.

For professionals who lack expertise in these areas, the good news is that it's not late to acquire it.

“Take a class; read a book,” Bernhart said. “You should be figuring out how can I … position myself better if I do get in front of an employer and they want to know what can you do for us.”

2. Employers are more demanding than ever and less willing to compromise.
Despite the abundance of available talent, many hiring managers are having trouble finding the right candidates. In Bernhart Associates' survey, 42% of respondents said they were having a ‘very difficult' time or a ‘somewhat difficult' time filling positions.

“I think right now employers feel that, because it is such an employers' market, they can afford to check off every box on the list of qualifications, requirements and skills that they're seeking … and they're not settling,” Bernhart said.

Importantly, it's not just a candidate's experience, education and credentials that factor into hiring decisions.

“Having the right combination of experience, talent and skills is a given. But we are also looking for the best people,” Savage said. “We have what we call our key attributes—smart, curious, sense of urgency, passionate, achiever. They must also be committed to the company's vision and be fun to be around. Most people overlook these last two elements.”

According to Frayne, understanding and speaking to employers' values is one way job seekers can utilize their direct marketing prowess to set themselves apart.

“Research the companies you're looking at,” she said. “Highlight the ‘you benefit': How can you help them?”

3. Referrals are outpacing Internet job boards, company Web sites and even recruiters as the preferred way to find new talent.
Finally, job seekers who spend hours a day trolling employment Web sites may want to reconsider the strategy. In Bernhart Associates' survey, 28% of respondents cited referrals from employees, ex-employees or vendors as the biggest source of new hires. This outranked Internet job boards (14%), direct hires (12%), outside recruiters (9%) and company Web sites (3%).

The moral of the story? Network, network, network.

“Start building [your network] and do it now,” Bernhart said. “Those who don't have the network are at a distinct disadvantage.”

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